New mothers who give birth at Ochsner Hospital and breast-feed their babies know they have a cheering squad behind them.

“Starting from the first visit, we talk about birth preferences and bring up breast-feeding,” said Bethanie Genre, a nurse and midwife at Ochsner.

The subject is brought up again when the woman is 28 weeks into her pregnancy and then again closer to her due date.

“It was always part of the mentality of the whole group of doctors and midwives here that breast-feeding was important,” said Dr. Ewelina Griffin, who practices obstetrics and gynecology at Ochsner.

For this reason, Griffin said, the hospital staff decided they wanted to go through the Baby Friendly certification process, which required a three-year effort, including completion of a rigorous on-site survey and mandatory training of physicians and nurses and enhanced patient education.

It also means that baby formula will only be provided when it is medically needed.

“When a new mom is tired and frustrated and trying to establish her milk supply, it’s too easy to give up and use formula,” Genre explained, adding that no formula samples or coupons are included in the patient take home packages.

“It’s definitely a little bit of a culture change,” said Griffin.

Newborns at Ochsner are put to the breast within the first few minutes of life.

Pacifiers are also discouraged, especially during the first six weeks of the infants’ life, while the milk supply is being established.

Currently, 215 U.S. hospitals and birth centers in 45 states hold the Baby Friendly designation, and Ochsner Health System is the first hospital in Louisiana to receive it.

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is a global initiative of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund. The goal is to increase the number of Baby Friendly hospitals so that all mothers will be supported in their breast-feeding efforts.

Statistics say that mothers who give birth at Baby Friendly hospitals and birthing centers are more likely to initiate exclusive breast-feeding and more likely to keep it up at six months, largely due to the institutional support.

Breast-feeding benefits

According to the specialist, there are numerous benefits of breast-feeding:

  • Human milk gives infants the most complete nutrition possible.
  • Breastfed children have fewer and less serious illnesses than those who never receive breast milk, including a reduced risk of SIDS, childhood cancer and diabetes.
  • Newborns become immune to the flu and whooping cough and other diseases from colostrum, the first milk that is produced after birth.
  • The “high octane” milk is full of antibodies and can even act as a laxative that helps infants expel their first stools.
  • Women who breast-feed have decreased risks of breast and ovarian cancer, anemia and osteoporosis.
  • It’s a money saver. Breast milk is free and breast-feeding saves on health care costs related to time lost to care for sick children.

Genre said family members are included with the new mothers in the classes they host on lactation. “Sometimes, family members can sabotage the breast-feeding effort,” she said. “We want them to know how important it is for the health of the baby.”

“Most women need to know that it is a worry-free experience,” Griffin said.

Both Griffin and Genre nursed their children while working full-time. “We help new moms learn how to keep up their breast-feeding during the work day by pumping their breasts for milk,” Genre said.

Griffin added, “Several insurance plans will issue a breast pump for free.”

Genre said most workplaces have begun to acknowledge that new mothers need time to pump their breasts.

“This is a good time for society to accept that this is a healthy thing for a mother to do for her child,” she said. “Women should not feel embarrassed.”